Montana is at once the fourth largest state in the U.S. and the third least densely populated. Its sparseness is underscored by its relatively small college student population. In 2013, the entire state reported an enrollment of roughly 40,000 students, a number that is actually dwarfed by enrollment at some of the nation's larger colleges. Still, Montana has the highest enrollment rate among its neighboring state, a fact owed to the excellent tradition within the few universities that are located in Montana.
Montana became the 41st state in 1889, by which point the territory had already enjoyed the services of the Montana Collegiate Institute for 11 years. Over the next century, the Institute would experience mergers and rebranding, first as the Billings Polytechnic Institute, and later as the Rocky Mountain College. It operates under this name today.
The largest of the state's public schools are Montana State University and the University of Montana. The latter, located in Missoula and serving about 15,000 students, would be established in 1893 at the foot of Montana's majestic Mount Sentinel. Today, these schools are among 17 public institutions throughout the state.
Private non-profit options top out at six, though a few of these enjoy considerable reputation. For instance, Carroll College in the capital city of Helena got its start in 1909 as a Catholic-founded liberal arts school. Though originally a men's school, Carroll transformed into a co-educational campus in 1932. Today, the school's 1500 student roster is actually 59% female. In spite of its modest size---one quite clearly reflective of the Montana population on the whole---Carroll is rated as U.S. News & World Report's 3rd Best Value School in the western region and the West's top regional college.
Fortunately for Montana's students, the cost of tuition in the state is lower than average by a considerable sum. Where the national average for in-state tuition was $8,070 in 2012-2013, students in Montana paid an average of $6,267 to attend a public university.